Heart Of Darkness (1021 words) Essay

Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness
In Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness
the Europeans are cut off from civilization, overtaken by greed, exploitation,
and material interests from his own kind. Conrad develops themes of personal
power, individual responsibility, and social justice. His book has all
the trappings of the conventional adventure tale – mystery, exotic setting,
escape, suspense, unexpected attack. The book is a record of things seen
and done by Conrad while in the Belgian Congo. Conrad uses Marlow, the
main character in the book, as a narrator so he himself can enter the story
and tell it out of his own philosophical mind. Conrad’s voyages to the
Atlantic and Pacific, and the coasts of Seas of the East brought contrasts
of novelty and exotic discovery. By the time Conrad took his harrowing
journey into the Congo in 1890, reality had become unconditional. The African
venture figured as his descent into hell. He returned ravaged by the illness
and mental disruption which undermined his health for the remaining years
of his life. Marlow’s journey into the Congo, like Conrad’s journey, was
also meaningful. Marlow experienced the violent threat of nature, the insensibility
of reality, and the moral darkness.

We have noticed that important motives
in Heart of Darkness connect the white men with the Africans. Conrad knew
that the white men who come to Africa professing to bring progress and
light to “darkest Africa” have themselves been deprived of the sanctions
of their European social orders; they also have been alienated from the
old tribal ways.

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“Thrown upon their own inner spiritual
resources they may be utterly damned by their greed, their sloth, and their
hypocrisy into moral insignificance, as were the pilgrims, or they may
be so corrupt by their absolute power over the Africans that some Marlow
will need to lay their memory among the ‘dead Cats of Civilization.'” (Conrad
The supposed purpose of the Europeans traveling
into Africa was to civilize the natives. Instead they colonized on the
native’s land and corrupted the natives.

“Africans bound with thongs that contracted
in the rain and cut to the bone, had their swollen hands beaten with rifle
butts until they fell off. Chained slaves were forced to drink the white
man’s defecation, hands and feet were chopped off for their rings, men
were lined up behind each other and shot with one cartridge , wounded prisoners
were eaten by maggots till they die and were then thrown to starving dogs
or devoured by cannibal tribes.” (Meyers 100.)
Conrad’s “Diary” substantiated the accuracy
of the conditions described in Heart of Darkness: the chain gangs, the
grove of death, the payment in brass rods, the cannibalism and the human
skulls on the fence posts. Conrad did not exaggerate or invent the horrors
that provided the political and humanitarian basis for his attack on colonialism.

The Europeans took the natives’ land away from them by force. They burned
their towns, stole their property, and enslaved them. George Washington
Williams stated in his diary,
“Mr. Stanley was supposed to have made
treaties with more than four hundred native Kings and Chiefs, by which
they surrendered their rights to the soil. And yet many of these people
declare that they never made a treaty with Stanley, or any other white
man; their lands have been taken away from them by force, and they suffer
the greatest wrongs at the hands of the Belgians.” (Conrad 87.)
Conrad saw intense greed in the Congo.

The Europeans back home saw otherwise; they perceived that the tons of
ivory and rubber being brought back home was a sign of orderly conduct
in the Congo. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness mentioned nothing about the trading
of rubber. Conrad and Marlow did not care for ivory; they cared about the
exploration into the “darkest Africa.” A painting of a blindfolded woman
carrying a lighted torch was discussed in the book. The background was
dark, and the effect of the torch light on her face was sinister. The oil
painting represents the blind and stupid ivory company, fraudulently letting
people believe that besides the ivory they were taking out of the jungle,
they were, at the same time, bringing light and progress to the jungle.

Conrad mentioned in his diary that missions were set up to Christianize
the natives. He did not include the missions into his book because the
land was forcibly taken away from the natives, thus bringing in a church
does not help if the natives have no will. Supplies brought in the country
were left outdoors and abandoned, and a brick maker who made no bricks,
lights up the fact that the Europeans do not care to help the natives progress.

When Marlow reached the first station, he saw what used to be tools and
supplies, that were to help progress the land, laid in waste upon the ground.

“I came upon a boiler wallowing in the
grass, then found a path leading up the hill. It turned aside for the boulders
and also for an undersized railway truck lying there on its back with its
wheels in the air…. I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a
stack of rust rails…. No change appeared on the face of the rock. They
were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way of anything, but
this objectless blasting was all the work going on.” (Conrad 19.)
George Washington Williams wrote in his
diary that three and a half years passed by, but not one mile of road bed
or train tracks was made. “One’s cruelty is one’s power; and when one parts
with one’s cruelty, one parts with one’s power,” says William Congreve,
author of The Way of the World. (Tripp 206.) The Europeans forcibly took
away the natives’ land and then enslaved them. All the examples given are
part of one enormous idea of cruelty – cruelty that the European white
men believe because its victims are helpless. These are mystical revelations
of man’s dark self.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: Backgrounds
and Criticisms. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1960.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Joseph Conrad. New York:
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness 3rd ed.

Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical, 1988.

Williams, George Washington. [A Report
upon the Congo – State and Country to the President of the Republic of
the United States of America.] Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd
ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical 1988. 87.

Tripp, Rhoda Thomas. Thesaurus of Quotations.

New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970.


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